Saying there is “a strong possibility” that Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin will be back before the end of the season, coach Mike Sullivan on Friday announced that Malkin, one of the team’s keystone centers, is out “week to week” because of an undisclosed injury.
Malkin was hurt in the first period Tuesday when he was hit in the corner by Boston’s Jarred Tinordi and then was evaluated over a few days.
It’s a big blow to the Penguins, who lost that game and their subsequent one Thursday at New Jersey after a six-game winning streak.
“Obviously when you lose ‘Geno’ it’s a tough loss from our standpoint for everything that he brings to our team,” Sullivan said.
Jared McCann centered the second line, Malkin’s normal spot, between wingers Brandon Tanev and Kasperi Kapanen when the Penguins practiced Friday in New Jersey.
McCann has missed the past six games because of an unspecified injury but has been practicing in full capacity this week and has improved to the point that he will be a game-time decision Saturday against the Devils, according to Sullivan.
McCann indicated he expects to return, which could help shore up the thin center position with Malkin and Teddy Blueger on injured reserve.
“He’s a natural center, so he has a comfort level playing there,” Sullivan said of McCann potentially filling in for Malkin, also citing his versatility after he has spent most of this season as a winger when healthy.
McCann, who helped fill in for the team’s other top center, Sidney Crosby, when Crosby was out last season, said he’s ready for the added defensive responsibility of shifting to center.
“I’m not going to overthink it; I’m just going to go out there and play my game,” McCann said. “I’ve got two great linemates to play with in (Kapenen and Tanev). We have some good chemistry together already this year. We’re going to look to make a difference tomorrow.”
Malkin, 34, has eight goals, 26 points in 29 games. But that doesn’t tell the full story.
He had a poor start to the season, playing at self-admittedly significantly less then his normal dominant best. Then he found his legs, his game and a great deal of chemistry with Kapanen.
Going into the game he was hurt, Malkin had an eight-game point streak (four goals, 12 points).
Sullivan tried to reach Malkin to talk to him about the prognosis and underscore how well he had been playing.
“I called him (Thursday). I sent him a text. We played phone tag,” Sullivan said.
“That was one of the things I reiterated in one of the texts I sent him, was how disappointed I was for him in this circumstance because he’s played so well for us as of late, he’s developed a lot of chemistry with (Kapanen) and that we’ll get him back in a timely fashion and he can continue to build on the progress that they’ve made.”
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, the third member of the team’s longtime core, feels for Malkin.
“It must be tough for him,” Letang said. “Maybe people didn’t think he had a great start, but he was certainly a key component of all the wins that we got lately.”
In other injury updates from Sullivan, winger Jason Zucker skated on his own for the second day in a row in Pittsburgh “which is really encouraging from our standpoint. He’s making progress.”
Defenseman Mark Friedman again skated in a full capacity in practice.